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Why I love studying abroad in Northern Ireland

Meet American PhD student Madelyn Marie Nowak-Roddy. She tells us about her passion for hiking, photography, all things Game of Thrones and…her personal 'Beans Challenge'.

Queen’s came onto my radar following a conversation with a student from Belfast who studied at my university in the US. His brother was a leukaemia researcher at Queen’s, so we set up a call and discussed the high quality of research at the School of Biological Sciences.

I decided to move to Belfast to study a PhD in Parasitology & Stem Cell Biology because of the reputation of the University – particularly in the sciences. The beautiful scenery that Northern Ireland has to offer was also a key part of my decision.

Northern Ireland is the best place to study if you love the outdoors

I’ve lived in Northern Ireland for nearly seven years and I’m still blown away by the beauty and diversity of the landscape. There are plenty of opportunities for me to satisfy my love for the outdoors and to go hiking and surfing.

Belfast is a lively city, but what I appreciate most is the fact that you can travel a very short distance and be at beautiful beaches, lush forests such as Tollymore in County Down, the Mournes, or national trust countryside homes.

And I’ve been able to visit different locations while filming as an extra for various TV shows, such as Game of ThronesDerry GirlsDublin Murders, and Line of Duty.

I got the opportunity to be a Game of Thrones tour guide

My time as a tour guide for Game of Thrones has been life-changing. I have met so many people from different cultures and I have gained the confidence to talk in front of large groups and interact with strangers.

One interaction that stands out would be my encounter with the writer and creator of Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin. He was incredibly kind and gave everyone their own Game of Thrones coin with a specific character from the fantasy world (mine being that of Daenerys Targaryen).

The ‘Beans Challenge’

Before starting my PhD, I realised that I had not experienced all the natural beauty that Ireland has to offer. So, on my return to Northern Ireland, I bought my first camera and set about exploring – and documenting – my adventures on Instagram.

This is when I set myself my own personal challenge (the ‘beans challenge’) – to complete as many peaks in the Mourne Mountains as I could. The Mournes are a uniquely compact mountain range consisting of 12 peaks over 600m – and several others over 500m – but only 7 miles in breadth.

So far, the challenge has been going really well! I have hiked 15 mountains in the Mournes, many of these multiple times. The mountain I’ve climbed the most is Doan Mountain (593 metres). I actually hiked there recently with some friends as it honestly has the best views of the Mournes.

WATCH: Madelyn's adventures in Northern Ireland.

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Why I would recommend Queen's to international students

I would 100 per cent recommend Queen’s to Americans back home because I have not only excelled academically here, but I have also gained confidence in my personal life.

Living abroad seemed daunting at first but it has changed my life for the better. I now feel as though I can embrace anything and everything.

Before moving to Belfast, I was shy and unsure of myself. Now, I realise that once I put my mind to something, I can do it. The world is simply waiting for you to explore it as long as you keep an open and positive mindset.

What’s next?

My studies at Queen’s are coming to an end next year and I’m excited to explore more of Ireland. I’m hoping to travel and surf and perhaps visit Australia and New Zealand while continuing to film all of my experiences.

I am looking forward to passing my driving test and getting my own little car so I can go on even more adventures. I can’t wait for the day where I can strap a surf board to the car roof and randomly go on my own adventure to the North Coast for a little evening surf and pizza after.

I would love to do something completely different as well, just to experience a different culture, perhaps through wildlife volunteer work.

Madelyn's research

Madelyn’s PhD title is ‘Stem cells, new players in anthelmintic/parasite interplay’ and focuses on combatting drug resistance in parasitic worms, mainly the liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica).

Liver flukes cause a disease in humans and animals – cattle, goats, and sheep – known as fascioliasis. As a helminthiasis of global importance, fascioliasis causes an estimated world-wide annual production loss of US $3.2 billion in the agri-food industry and is notably the most commonly diagnosed helminth parasite in UK abattoirs.

Her PhD aims to provide insight into better understanding the drug-stem cell interplay and to discover/validate new flukicide targets for parasite control.

Find out more

Applying to Queen's from the USA

Read more about Madelyn's 'Beans Challenge'

School of Biological Sciences

You can also follow Madelyn on Instagram (@madelynnowakroddy) as she documents her experiences of Northern Ireland through photographs and vlogs.


Read the full interview with Madelyn here.


Photo: Madelyn Nowak-Roddy
Madelyn Nowak-Roddy
PhD Parasitology